Cities weigh new form of government

Camas, Washougal committees consider switching from ‘strong mayor’ form to council-manager

Two committees in Camas and Washougal are looking at the possibility of converting the cities’ current mayor-council form of government to the more widely used council-manager system.

Camas was the first to form a committee, after City Councilman Greg Anderson asked other council members if they were interested in exploring the topic and they viewed a presentation from the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC). The Camas committee includes former Camas mayors Nan Henriksen and Paul Dennis, as well as former city administrator Lloyd Halverson, Camas School Board member and former Camas Public Works Director Doug Quinn, Vice President of Business Development for MacKay Sposito and partner at PointNorth Consulting, Inc. Lisa Schauer and Washington State University-Vancouver Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations Lynn Valenter.

Anderson said Camas has had a long history of success with the current form of strong-mayor governance, and a city administrator for 30 years.

“There is no current situation that caused this study,” Anderson said. “It’s just an exploration, as it has been many years since we last had this topic at council to review our options.”

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins appointed the committee and asked Henriksen to serve as the chairperson.

According to information the MRSC presented to the Washougal Citizens Government Advisory Committee on March 23, the cons of the current mayor-council form of government include the potential of giving too much power and authority to the mayor. The fear is having a mayor who makes decisions based on politics and uses the office to further their own political objectives.

Henriksen said Camas has been lucky so far.

“We have not had any rogue mayors or any mayors that had poor judgement in their personal lives or in running the city,” she said. “Camas was a town of 6,000 when I was able to hire Lloyd (Halverson). Now, we are pushing 24,000 and laws are more complex.”

Former Washougal Parks Board member Chuck Carpenter chairs the Washougal committee. That committee includes Washougal School Board member Donna Sinclair, City Councilwoman Julie Russell, former School Board member Blaine Peterson, former Washougal City Council members Dave Shoemaker and Rod Morris and Washougal Senior Association President Wayne Pattison.

Carpenter said the current “strong mayor” form of government makes Washougal’s mayor the city’s de facto chief executive officer.

The alternative is a “strong council” form of government, with a professional manager/administrator managing the day-to-day activities of the city, hired by and responsible to the elected city council.

Washougal Councilman Brent Boger said if voters decide to change the form of government to council-manager, Coston would serve as an eighth councilmember until her term expires at the end of 2021.

Washougal Councilman Ray Kutch said he would support the change to a council-manager form of government.

“There was some discussion of the topic during the most recent (Washougal mayoral) election,” he said. “There were also discussions with other cities at Association of Washington Cities conferences that have made the change to this more collaborative form of city government.”

The Washougal Citizens Government Advisory Committee is expected to bring a recommendation forward to the Washougal City Council on May 14.